Zac Celedonia’s 2021 4-Round Steelers Mock Draft
*Opens up Twitter
*Stands in mirror and says, “You the man!”
Yes, this is my everyday morning routine, but it’s also how I prepare to write a mock draft. Yes, that’s right comrades, the day of reckoning is upon us. The NFL Draft is upon us. And this year has one particular fanbase very near and dear to my heart at each other’s throats – shocker!
The Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans finished the 2020 season at the hands of defeat in a first-round playoff exit to the Cleveland Browns, of all teams. After a hot 11-0 start to the season, the Steelers had to fight tooth and nail to rummage up what seemed like ANY success in the final weeks.
A passionate late-game comeback against the Indianapolis Colts saved them from a colossal 0-5 finish. And no one needs reminded how the playoff game following that almost 0-5 finish went. The overwhelming disappointment and, for lack of a better term, panic, has seeped into the offseason.
Maybe I got some spotty and selective memory, but I never remember a Steelers draft that had so many people divided and arguing leading up to it. Pittsburgh has very clear and concerning needs at running back, offensive line, cornerback, and tight end.
Not to mention pretty severe lack of depth at linebacker and safety. Trying to pinpoint where and what exactly the Steelers are thinking is hard, but not impossible.
Now, I know most people won’t even read those two opening paragraphs; I’m not some new-bee to the mock draft season. You want to get to the good stuff! But I wanted to offer a little substance before I got to the sizzle. In the past, I’ve done mock drafts for the entire Steelers class, but we’re changing things up this year.
I’m only going to do the Steelers’ first five picks, (Rounds 1-4 because they have two 4th-round picks) and that’s because of two things: First, hand up, I don’t know the Day 3 and projected 6th/7th round prospects that well this year, and I don’t want to talk out of my butt.
Secondly, most people don’t care by the time we get to that point in a mock draft and I don’t want to waste your time, and more importantly my own time.
Alright let’s have fun!
First Round (24): Najee Harris – RB (Alabama)
For those of you who haven’t exited out of this mock draft because I didn’t take an offensive lineman first, I thank you. And those of you that did, I still thank you, because I still got you to read – HA! Counts!
Okay, but seriously, the Steelers could not have made it anymore obvious that Harris is who they are targeting at pick 24. They still have glaring needs at OL and LB (two positions commonly mocked to PIT in the first round), but if you look closely, the Steelers have shown their hand in that regard.
Why do those three names matter so much? Because they’ve started games for the Steelers before and Tomlin/Colbert have shown they are comfortable going to battle with those guys, if need be.
Are they still looking to improve offensive line and linebacker? Duh. But with those three players now re-signed, they don’t have to reach for a lineman or linebacker if a top-tier guy doesn’t fall to 24, which is likely.
Whereas they did absolutely nothing to address running back, besides bringing in journeyman Kalen Ballage, and Ballage is hardly a name to write home about. In fact there are some (myself included) who wouldn’t be surprised if Ballage was cut before the 2021 season kicks off.
On top of the trail of proverbial breadcrumbs the Steelers have left for us with their offseason moves, Najee Harris is also a really, really good football player.
The pretty much unanimous RB1 in this year’s draft offers a three-down back “bell cow” style the Steelers haven’t had since Le’Veon Bell. James Conner will always have 2018, but we haven’t seen Pittsburgh take over and control a game on the ground in what feels like centuries.
Harris can come in and immediately start, and immediately improve Pittsburgh’s run game woes (as long as we add another lineman, or two, wink). Totaling 43 receptions in 2020, Harris has also shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and be used as a receiver, another similarity to the aforementioned Bell. The two aren’t identical, but there are enough similarities to show why the Steelers would be interested in Harris.
Let us not forget how much the Steelers wanted to keep Bell, originally, before the nationwide well-documented standoff between the star running back and Pittsburgh. Franchise-tagged not once but twice, and offered a multi-year deal that would have made him the highest paid running back in football, Pittsburgh wasn’t shy about how much they valued Bell when they had him in his prime.
I can’t shake that. I don’t think they will be able to pass up the opportunity to finally “replace” Bell. And, with Ben Roethlisberger in what looks to be his final season, you have to give him all the help you can. No one appreciated Bell more in Pittsburgh than Ben when he was, at one time, the team’s second-best receiver on the whole team.
If Pittsburgh can find a way to recapture that type of talent, I think they will. And it won’t hurt “the next guy” at quarterback, either, to have a Najee Harris with a year of experience to hand the ball off to. Steelers get their guy at 24.
Second Round (55): Creed Humphrey – IOL (Oklahoma)
Well, looky looky, we got an offensive lineman. And a good one at that! Starting since 2018, the former wrestler and life-long Sooner fan got to fulfil his dream by playing for the University of Oklahoma, and he did it in style. Earning team captain honors in 2020, Humphrey not only can offer a body to fill the void left by Maurkice Pouncey, but a voice as well.
Granted, I don’t expect him to be very vocal as a rookie, but if selected at 55 look for Humphrey to slide right into a leadership role in the locker room once comfortable enough to do so.
WalterFootball.com’s 3rd-rated center in the entire class, Mel Kiper’s 2nd, and Dane Brugler’s 1st, Creed Humphrey has earned respect across the board. Anyway you want to slice it, this guy is a top-5 center in this class and an immediate starter for Pittsburgh.
And just like that B.J. Finney goes to the bench. Slowly, but surely, Pittsburgh is returning to “Steelers football.”
Third round (87): Hunter Long – TE (Boston College)
It’s not very Steelers-like to ignore defense outright. And, I’ll go on record as saying it isn’t very likely, but this is the way the board fell for me and I’m not going to pass on a top-5 tight end for the ninth-best linebacker or eleventh-best cornerback.
A two-year starter at Boston College, Long offers a huge frame and seam-stretching ability that the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger have shown to value.
Long is a First Team All-ACC in 2020, a whopping 60% of his catches resulted in first downs.
The guy’s a chain mover, something Pittsburgh has grown accustomed to seeing in their tight ends over the years. Now, I’m not going to give you exclusively good traits when we’re this far into a mock draft. If everything was candies and nuts then Long would go in the 1st or 2nd round, right?
At times, on film, it looks like Long is still growing into his body, and almost seems awkward out there when running a more complex route. And unfortunately his run blocking leaves much to be desired. (Shhhh, do you hear that? it’s the sound of everyone reading that last sentence and collectively moaning and growing at the idea of “another” Eric Ebron.)
Long is still widely viewed as raw. And his 6’5 , 254-pound frame and athleticism, combined with his flashes on tape, is enough for me to take him with the Steelers’ 3rd-round pick. Ebron is Sharpied-in as the Steelers’ starter but if this were to happen, I’d expect Long to be tight end No. 2 heading into camp, and to see decent playing time throughout the 2021 season.
Fourth round (128): Shaun Wade – CB (Ohio State)
We all know how the Steelers love them some Ohio State! They return to the well with their first of two 4th-round selections, picking cornerback Shaun Wade.
This is a polarizing one. As if we hadn’t had enough of that already!
The curious case of Wade is an interesting one. Way back in 2018, if you can remember that far back, Wade played in the slot (nickel) for the Buckeyes and he was a stud. Totaling three interceptions, seven pass break-ups, and 31 tackles, but he wasn’t a “starter.”
He earned the starting role in 2019, where he continued to ascend and improve his game. 2020 was rather odd for Wade, though, after he went back on his initial choice to sit out the 2020 season and instead strapped it on for Ohio State, the performances for Wade were equally wishy-washy.
He’s got a big frame at 6’1, 195, and he plays physical, but when stacked up against top competition, Wade did not play well. You’d like to see a player elevate to his competition, not crumble beneath it. His poor performances against some of the class’ top receivers is why the Ohio State product is available at this range in most mocks.
At the end of the day the Steelers need depth at cornerback and, ideally, a guy who can play nickel since Mike Hilton is gone. Wade offers that. An underrated part of Wade’s game is that he also played “gunner” on special teams for the Buckeyes, and the Steelers have shown they value that (Justin Layne played gunner on punt team last year and in 2019).
If Wade can’t crack the starting lineup on defense as a rookie, there’s a really good chance we could see him on special teams.
The last time the Steelers went Ohio State cornerback, it was also in the 4th round. The selection was Doran Grant, whom the Steelers cut before the regular season even started (PIT brought Grant back shortly after for the practice squad but that’s beside the point). Wade can’t possibly do worse than that! (right,?) *laughs nervously*
Fourth round (140): Tony Fields II – LB (West Virginia)
No relation to Justin, Tony Fields II is regarded as one of the “diamonds in the rough” and “potential late round steals” of this linebacker class. I took him probably a round earlier than most mocks have him going but, admittedly, I think I’m just a smidge higher on Fields than most.
Having started his career at the University of Arizona, Fields led his team in tackles his freshman season with 1o4 (as a freshman!!), 7.5 being tackles for a loss. He started three straight years for Arizona and then transferred to WVU, where he was named to first team All-Big 12 and was one of their best players in 2020.
Fields is undersized for the position (6 foot even, 220 pounds) but that hasn’t stopped the Steelers before. Fields isn’t anything great in coverage, but he’s not a liability.
Three interceptions and six pass break-ups on his career doesn’t show much, but when you’re picking this late it’s hard to find guys with double-digit turnover ratios.
Fields’ play in 2020 was good enough that it earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl. You know, the Senior Bowl? That’s where the Steelers famously had their one and only lone contact with Chase Claypool, last year, before selecting him in the 2nd round. Fellow Senior Bowl invitees the Steelers have drafted include Antoine Brooks, Sutton Smith, Isaiah Buggs, Jaylen Samuels, and Marcus Allen – All late round picks.
What does this tell me?
It tells me the Steelers look to the Senior Bowl as a sort of “benchmark” and a box they like to check when they’re looking at late-round prospects. Does the player need to have attended the Senior Bowl to be picked by the Steelers in the later rounds? No. But it certainly seems to help.
The good news is, with Vince Williams back, the Steelers aren’t in a situation where they have to start a guy like Fields right out the gate, or possibly ever.
Bringing Williams back not only gave them their opening-day starter, but it allows them the flexibility to take a guy like Fields who might be better suited for a special teams role in year one, while simultaneously picking up and learning the defense behind Williams, and of course, Devin Bush.